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October 13, 2012

Josh Drespling: ‘Head’ Welch proves people really can change

NEW CASTLE — A few weeks ago I got to interview someone who was somewhat of a hero of mine.

As many of you know, Brian “Head” Welch, one of the guitarists from the incredibly successful band Korn, was here in New Castle. He and his new band, Love and Death, performed a short show at New Castle High.

I have been a fan of Korn since their beginning. I remember them exploding onto the music scene with the release of their debut, self-titled album. That album eventually went platinum five times in the United States and several more times worldwide.

I saw Welch and the band perform at the Beaver County Dome, opening for Danzig and Marilyn Manson. They were nothing more than a van band at the time. They were traveling the country, playing down and dirty shows, and making a name for themselves. At this particular show they were amazing despite the fact that “Head” had his guitar strap attached with duct tape and it even fell off a couple of times.

They were there to rock, and rock they did. They made me even more of a fan from that show after seeing them pull off their new brand of metal in front of a live crowd. It was a sight to behold and a show that all of us music geeks brag about seeing to this day.

Their next trek through our area was a sold-out club show at the now-defunct Metropol in Pittsburgh. They had a band opening for them that I had never heard of before that night. It was Limp Bizkit.

On the day of that show, Korn did an in-store meet and greet at Revolution Skate Shop on Carson Street on Pittsburgh's South Side. The band signed CDs and posters for hundreds of fans. However, the two guitarists, Head and Munky, were completely wasted. They attempted to hide behind their sunglasses and bottled water, but their speech was slurred and their movements slow and clumsy.

Later that night they put on a killer show. Maybe they sobered up, maybe not. The capacity crowd was none the wiser about their condition.

I had the opportunity to see them play a few more times over the next few years as their popularity grew and grew. They went from an underground opening act to a headlining arena and amphitheater sensation. They were selling tons of tickets everywhere they played. Their new songs went straight to radio and immediately to the Billboard charts.

I caught up with the band in 2004 when they did the Project Revolution Tour with Linkin Park. I went to photograph the band at Star Lake Amphitheater for Empire Extreme Magazine.

Security escorted me and the other photographers to the front of the stage. From this vantage point, you can see every detail of the musician. You can see the sweat glistening on their faces and the scratches on their guitars. Head played the set in his usual position, bent at the waist, flailing away on his guitar, his dreads flying through the air, and stomping his feet. I never did see his face and was frustrated I did not get a decent picture of him. They put on another awesome show, highlighted by a dark version of Pink Floyd's, “Another Brick in the Wall.”

The next thing I heard from the band was that Head had left — walked away from millions of dollars and the rock star dream. There were rumors flying, and the remaining guys from the band added fuel to the fire by not really speaking about the situation.

Photos began to surface online of Head being baptized in the Jordan River in Israel. He was wearing a white robe and looking very Jesus-like. Soon he released a book “Save Me From Myself,” that outlined his adventures in Korn and his departure from the decadent life that rock stardom had embroiled him in.

I had to know for myself. Was it true? Did he really walk away? Or was he fired from the band as some rumors alluded to? I was determined to ask him firsthand.

I did some digging and contacted with his manager and publicist and arranged an interview for a magazine that I was running at the time. We set up a meeting at the Cornerstone Festival outside Chicago. I was excited to meet with Head and get the truth directly from his mouth.

At the festival I played some phone tag with his manager and battled poor cell signals, but we set a meeting spot. As I walked across the big lawn area of the festival to the Craft Service spot where we were to meet, I saw a tall man with jet-black hair. He stood out from the rest of the people there. He had an aura surrounding him. It was as if there was a light shining down on him.

I met with a bright-eyed, healthy-looking, happy person. He was somewhat shy and a little reserved about talking to strangers about his experiences. I eventually got him to open up about his transformation and all that it meant to him. We spent about 40 minutes talking about music and experiences. What an amazing change a year had made in this man’s life. He went from a falling-down drunk, strung out on meth, to a vibrant and articulate man with a quick sense of humor. Eventually, he was coaxed by his manager to head over to the stage where he was scheduled to speak. I do have the entire exchange between us on video. Maybe I will post that on YouTube someday for your enjoyment.

I caught up with him later that night as we watched some bands play from the side of the main stage, and he thanked me for the interview and told me he had fun as we critiqued the bands that were playing.

Maybe it was his own doing, maybe it was divine intervention, but the man I spoke with that day and on several occasions since, is indeed a changed man. There is a profound difference in his outlook and his demeanor. You can see it in his eyes and his actions.

Head has, in fact, been saved from himself and has proved that people really can change if they want to.

 

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